When Augusta State coach Dip Metress recruited Greg Hire, he did so with one main purpose.
Defend Chris Commons.
So a chess match that began last spring finally played out Monday night in front of 3,109 fans -- the second-largest crowd in Augusta State history.
In this game, it was checkmate for the Jaguars.
Hire did his part, while fellow Aussie Ben Madgen stole the show in the seventh-ranked Jaguars' 87-76 win over No. 2 USC Aiken.
Madgen posted a career-high 33 points in the first top-10 matchup in the series, which dates back to the 1975-76 season. Augusta State (8-2, 2-1) also won the first top-10 contest between two Peach Belt Conference teams.
"I'm very pleased," said Metress, who improved to 14-5 against nationally ranked opponents. "We kept our composure. We played well. We had a couple of bad stretches, but for the most part we played our style of game."
With the victory, Augusta State defeated its highest-ranked opponent. The Jaguars went 3-1 in an eight-day stretch, which featured three top-25 opponents. More importantly, Augusta State improved to 2-1 in conference play to match USC Aiken (7-3, 2-1) in the league standings.
"This is huge for us," Madgen said. "This gets us right back on track after that loss at Clayton."
With standout senior center Garret Siler in foul trouble all night, Madgen stepped up his game. He shot 11-for-14 from the field with four 3-pointers.
"Greg and Fred (Brathwaite) penetrated really well and got me some open looks on the wing, which really helped," Madgen said. "That helped my confidence and got me going."
With Madgen in gear, Hire helped contain Commons, who entered as the Peach Belt's leading scorer. The All-American senior forward got in foul trouble in the second half and finished with 15 points -- five below his average -- on 7-for-16 shooting.
This is what Metress expected when he brought in Hire for a recruiting visit after last season. He stressed to Hire the importance of the rivalry and the fact he'd be facing one of the best players in Division II.
"When you have a player of Commons' magnitude, you have to address it in the off-season," Metress said. "We knew Commons was a bear. Greg did a good job on him."
USC Aiken lost for the third time in four games. The Pacers played without 6-foot-8 junior forward Josh Dollard, the team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He was indefinitely suspended for violating athletic department policy before Saturday's game against North Georgia.
"Without him, a marquee player is not here," Metress said. "He'll be back."
Javonte Clanton posted a season-high 24 points to lead USC Aiken. Cordaryl Ballard added 16.
The Pacers shot 42 percent from the field, including a 5-for-19 effort from the perimeter.
Commons missed his first two shots, then started crafting his game. He scored from the baseline on a hook. He added a reverse layup. He canned a 17-foot jumper. He scored 12 first-half points.
"Good players make those shots," Hire said. "You just have to accept that and you can't leave your head down."
Augusta State led 43-35 at halftime and pushed its lead to as many as 15 points. Siler picked up his fourth foul with 12:37 remaining. But USC Aiken also suffered a major blow when Commons was charged with his fourth foul 13 seconds later.
Siler, who fouled out in the final minute, finished with 10 points (4-for-4 shooting) in 23 minutes.
"We understand he's going to get in foul trouble at times," Brathwaite said. "When he gets in foul trouble, we have to come out like we did tonight against every team we play. We can't have any letdowns when he comes out. Everybody has to do their part and play."
Brathwaite posted a career-high 19 points with 10 rebounds -- his first double-double of the season. Steve Smith added nine points, while Hire chipped in with eight as Augusta State shot 60 percent from the field.
"We came in with the gameplan of containing Siler," Commons said, "and we let other guys go off."
USC Aiken went on a 9-0 run to pull within 65-60 with seven minutes remaining. Hire responded with two free throws. Then, Siler returned to the game.
With its big man back on the floor, Augusta State switched from a zone back to man-to-man defense. After Smith's 3-pointer, Siler blocked a Kingsley Oguchi shot in the lane.
On the offensive end, Siler tossed a pass to Hire cutting through the lane. Hire dished back out to Madgen for an open 3. Augusta State led 75-63 with 4:38 remaining and was not threatened down the stretch.
There's little time for the Jaguars to celebrate their win or for the Pacers to get down. Both teams return to action Wednesday. Augusta State plays host to UNC Pembroke. USC Aiken plays host to Francis Marion.
"We've got to play hard," Commons said. "We have to get our mental (focus) back. We have a lack of focus."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.